What began as a way to revamp our school’s butterfly garden became something much bigger- it became the inception of a full-scale recycling and waste-reduction program on campus. In order to fund the restoration of the school’s butterfly garden, our environmental club worked with Terracycle to collect recyclable items. The revenue from the Terracycle program was used to purchase garden supplies, and today our garden is used as an educational tool for everything from photography and art to english and science courses.
What steps did your organization take to complete the project?
In 2013, I began working with my school’s environmental club to restore the butterfly garden. The soil was poor, therefore nothing would grow. We upcycled used tires from a local tire center as garden beds, but we needed funds to buy materials we needed to garden.
When I was younger, my mother used to buy juice pouches to accompany our lunch. It was on one of those pouches where she saw a Terracycle logo. Our family alone accumulated enough pouches to justify joining a collection brigade. Thus, my Terracycle trash-to-life project began. I had been recycling with Terracycle for several years with my family and introduced it to the club’s sponsor, who loved it and encouraged classes to collect, allowing us to purchase what we needed.
Using Photoshop, I made plant identification labels containing information of the butterfly’s life cycle and its relationship to each plant to educate visitors. As a result, teachers bring their classes to the garden; science classes study the life cycles, art classes use the flowers as inspiration, photography students take beautiful pictures, and English classes used the quiet area to read. In the summer of 2014, the garden was removed to extend the school’s parking lot, so we created a new garden elsewhere in our school. When school began on August 2014, our programs spread schoolwide, taking on a life of its own as an insurmountable number of staff opted to participate. Every week, we collect and sort the recycling from participating classrooms in the school’s three buildings.
What challenges did you face, and how were they addressed?
My biggest challenge being president of the environmental club for the past three years has been voicing my concerns. I find opposition towards my cause and often explain my stance when peers do not see the aspects of my efforts. It is undermining to have to defend what we are doing and why. I speak of the challenges to my club members, who are embarrassed to sort through recycling and trash. I remind them that we are nature’s voices and that we make a difference when no one else will step up to the task. There will always be naysayers and people who think what we do does not matter. Our job is not to entertain their thought processes, but to remind ourselves why we do what we do, and those reasons alone motivate us to go against the grain. My project is my plight. Although it is ongoing, I have so far devoted 743 hours since I started it in April 2013. I reach out to anyone to increase awareness, having staff, family, and friends tell me how they changed their habits and became advocates themselves. My teammates join me in cleanups and bring reusable bottles to races rather than use disposable bottles, and my coach now brings a dispensing cooler to refill our bottles.
What impact has the project had on your campus and the community?
Since 2013, we have recycled over 10,000 pounds of plastic, 3 large bins of paper per week (including 900 textbooks from last year), and shipped over 1,000 pounds of non-recyclables to Terracycle. In the summer of 2015, we purchased a water bottle refill station for our school that keeps record of the number of disposable bottles saved. To-date, 27,953 disposable water bottles have been saved. A second and third one will be installed in the summer of 2016.
Thanks to my project, the environmental club I am president of is able to continue expanding our butterfly garden. We have added more host plants, which in turn feed more caterpillars, and more butterflies emerge as a result. I expect to continue this project through graduation, at which point I will hand the reins over to a willing apprentice. It is a great feeling to have so much life around the garden and know that I had something to do with their presence.